Guest blogger Jim Boyle is CEO and Founder of Sustainability Roundtable, Inc. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Akamai.
The business world has moved much further online in 2020 and showed up as never before at NYC's Climate Week (September 21-27). HRH The Prince of Wales opened the 500+ events with a call for urgent action toward a "Marshall-like plan" to transition the global economy to net zero emissions. Prince Charles called specifically for five publicly accessible "roadmaps" to net zero emissions by 2030 before the U.N.'s next Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021: for industries, nations, cities, global finance, and technology.
The entire conference was dedicated to what "lessons we can learn in the pursuit of a net-zero future through just transition," which is an audacious and necessary pursuit that Akamai has increasingly led over the past several years. Although Akamai did not present at Sustainability Roundtable Inc.'s Third Quarter Executive Symposium that was an official part of Climate Week 2020, the member-clients that did were following Akamai's lead into bold commitments for emission reductions across their global enterprises. Moreover, multiple SR Inc. member-clients -- some among the world's fastest-growing companies -- have acknowledged Akamai's leadership in two particular areas of the drive toward greater climate responsibility that companies regularly find to be the most important to effect the needed systems-level change, and the most challenging to do. What has impressed many SR Inc. member-clients is, first, Akamai's leadership in collaborating across company and industry lines to amplify shared positive impact on our climate, and second, Akamai's willingness to step up and be heard by public policy makers on a state, federal, and international level.
In 2020, this is critically important. The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded global businesses that our economy is subject to our society, and our society is subject to knowable trends (see Sustainable Leadership Blog - COVID-19's Five Lessons). While COVID-19 proves to be the pandemic that corporate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) experts have long warned about, Prince Charles in his opening remarks for Climate Week observed that human-caused climate breakdown is "rapidly becoming a comprehensive catastrophe that will dwarf the impact of the coronavirus pandemic." Consequently, the time is past for companies to calculate and reduce -- or even eliminate -- their own greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Companies and entire industries need to embrace innovative new models of collaboration, and need to step forward and offer a new voice of business advocating for science-based public policy on climate.
The need for collaboration and public policy advocacy are two themes that came through in scores of Climate Week events. The "Race to Zero" now includes more than 1,100 companies and hundreds of cities globally committed to net-zero emissions. Many discussions also focused on the need to advance racial equity, to enable frontline communities to join the fight against human-caused climate breakdown that is ravaging them first. And these are two themes Akamai has led on.
Akamai has not only begun an impressive program to buy more renewable energy for its own facilities. It has partnered across company and industry lines to do more than it could do alone to help accelerate the needed revolution from fossil fuel-based to renewable energy technology. Several years ago, the managing director of the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA) recognized that aggregation was the "nut that had to be cracked" to unlock the market power of the vast majority of companies that were not as large as Alphabet, Amazon, or Apple and could not by themselves cause huge new renewable energy projects. And Akamai has led on the aggregated procurement of large-scale renewable energy. First, Akamai partnered with Apple to partake in some wind and solar procurements of renewable energy in multiple U.S. markets, and now with multiple SR Inc. member-clients, to help generate more than 100 MW of new renewable energy through an aggregation of peer companies (similar in size and commitment to climate responsibility).
In addition to driving toward greater energy efficiency and use of renewable energy in its own global operations, Akamai has joined the leadership of cross-industry groups like REBA and Future of Internet Power (FoIP) to help catalyze the development of new, scalable transaction structures like corporate buyer-organized virtual power purchase agreements (see VPPA 2.0) and, separately, the ability of customers to attest to the procurement of renewable energy credits (RECs) to enable service providers like data centers and landlords to pass those RECs onto customers and tenants. Akamai has also gone further than innovative and scalable collaborations to advocate for public policy aligned with science. Akamai's Director of Corporate Sustainability, Mike Mattera, has repeatedly stepped forward working with SR Inc. and the Boston-based nonprofit Ceres to share Akamai's interest in science-based policy making on climate and renewable energy that benefits us all (see Akamai Offers Public Leadership on Renewables).
As Prince Charles observed, "achieving a sustainable future is the growth story of our time and can fuel our post-pandemic recovery for decades to come, but the window for action is closing." And we will succeed only if others follow Akamai's lead to the edge of innovation to move forward faster toward a renewable-powered and ultimately regenerative internet. Yes, through decarbonizing businesses ASAP, but also through collaborating in scalable ways and advocating for science-based climate policy like Akamai does.